Iulia has communicated to me that there is an issue with money around the upcoming Yoga workshop, specifically that some people have expressed a feeling that the price is too high. I am going to try to speak to that in this post.
If you are looking for a short answer that will give you immediate satisfaction then you are probably going to be disappointed. If you are interested in reflecting on this subject with me then I invite you to read on.
I’ve been reflecting, thinking and inquiring a lot into money in recent years and I am, as I write these words, in my 2nd reading of Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics (which has been translated to Romanian) and before that David Graeber’s Debt: The first 5000 Years.
My relationship with money has been difficult for as long as I can remember it. When I opened my first bank account I put in 100 shekels (the Israeli equivalent of the lei) and, following my father’s advice and common wisdom I put it all into a short-term savings plan … and immediately found myself in debt of 20 agorot (the Israeli equivalent of bani) due to the cost of the transaction. Though even by then I was under the impression that money is hard to get, that you can never have enough and it is an endless source of worry and anxiety.
Even when I had a good career and I was getting paid a good salary and living a modest life I felt insecure. I felt I had to carefully measure how I spent money and I was always worried what would happen if I were to lose my job … how would I manage financially. I ultimately ended my career when I realized that 1) no matter how much money I was making it wasn’t enough to meet anything that felt remotely close to financial security and 2) that I was unhappy in my pursuit of this ghost called “financial security”. So I decided to set it aside and give myself a chance at happiness.
To make a long story short (er) … happiness found me (at least for a while) but living even a modest life in a western-priced country continued to be expensive and insecurity took over once again. This time with a sharper bite … money was running out … and then it did … run out.
By then my questions about money had transformed into a single very different question. In my mind money came to represent a relationship between me and the community or society I lived in. Not having money meant not having a relationship with the society I lived in. Offering my gifts and being rejected meant that the society I was living in didn’t need or didn’t value my gifts. Either way it became a question about relationship and community … it was no longer about money itself.
To make an even longer story short(er) … my hope in coming to Romania was to create a life in which money would have a smaller role. For the most part, that has, in a surprising way and via a demanding journey, happened. Now I am in a place where insecurity is slowly starting to be replaced by security (though that journey is far from over). However one of the few things missing in this new life is me being able to express my gifts.
Charles Eisenstein (and others) speak about a gift-based economy. My impression is that many people interpret this in a superficial way to mean an economy in which things are given as gifts … “for free” … as in without an exchange of money. I think that is misunderstanding and can be misleading.
I believe that a gift-based economy describes a world in which people live their lives in their gifts. Underlying this view is a belief that we are all gifted in some special way, that we are here to manifest our gifts and that doing so brings us to an experience of fulfillment and alignment with a sense of purpose.
One of my gifts is Yoga and living in a Romanian village (with a basic grasp of the Romanian language) doesn’t offer me an opportunity to express that gift. Iulia’s invitation to give a weekend workshop in Targu Mures is an exciting opportunity to be in my gift.
That still leaves us with a question of exchange and how money fits into it.
Giving as a Means of Exchange
Before diving into money I do want to touch a bit on “gift” as an act of giving. Though we are typically taught that before money came barter (10 chickens for one goat) but it turns out that is not true, it is a disproved assumption (there is evidence that proves otherwise) at the heart of modern day economics.
A more typical form of exchange was an a network of giving that creates debt(!) within a community. This form of exchange taps into an interesting human quality: responding to generosity with more generosity … wanting to give back more than you are given. The reason for this, it turns out, isn’t some deep sense of altruism but rather an intuitive understanding of indebtedness (very different than money-based debt because it doesn’t have to be quantified). If I help you in your time of need, you will want, in return, to help me.
However, the threads that tie a community together are not the actual exchanges but the resulting (unquantified) debts. A community is a collection of debts – when everyone owes everyone else something. All those small (or large) debts create a continuous sense of dependency and relatedness. An exchange based on money is one in which all debts are canceled and there is no need for further relationship. If I bring bottled water to my neighbor when I go drive to the village center she wants to give me something in return … maybe eggs … and she will give me a generous number of eggs … and I will want to help her again … and so on and so on. If I buy eggs from an old woman in the village market there is no need for relationship between us beyond that limited exchange. (Do you care about your supermarket, who owns it, who made the produce, who stocked the shelves, the woman at the checkout counter?, etc …)
For an exchange based on giving there needs to be relationship – a community. There needs to be a web of continuous, trusted relationships over time for giving to be able to flow. Such an exchange is not likely between strangers who may never see each other again. Indeed, the evolution of money is tied in numerous ways to wars. A debt based giving exchange may have existed in historical villages but when a soldier passed through a village, you wanted him to pay in coins … you may never see that soldier again, he may be dead by tomorrow … he is not someone with whom you want to form a long-term reciprocal relationship.
I am recalling two realizations that surprised me here in the village. The first realization surprised me in its obviousness: that it is easier to give something of which you have in abundance. If I have a generous yield of pumpkins it is easy for me to give pumpkins. The second realization struck me as disappointing … most giving in the village is indeed a means of incurring (or paying) debt … there is very little gifting.
So it seems that “gift economy” is a misleading name because it is really based on debt which is incurred through giving so maybe it should be called a debt-economy?
… which brings us to money as a means of exchange.
Money as a Means of Exchange
There are many definitions and applications of money. One of them is as a means of exchange. This can be a slippery subject to approach because we take money for granted without really knowing what it is and how it is created. I would like to try to see money in a different way … money as an expression of giving which does have a sense of community and gifting … lets let the rubber meet the road and apply this to a real scenario … a Yoga workshop in Targu Mures.
We are going to come together … I don’t know any of you and you don’t know me (though some of you may know each other). Hopefully the workshop will be a good and valuable experience for you. I am looking forward to sharing with you teachings that are precious to me and to do it in a way that will make them precious for you. You will naturally want to give something in return and you will want to do in a spirit of gift … you will want to feel generous and you will want to maintain a sense of continuity, relationship and community. How to do this?
Since we are not (yet!?) part of a continuous living community you are not likely to have something that I want or need (you barely know me, how can you know what I want or need). Therefor, suppose you could give me a token of your appreciation – something that says “this is to indicate you have given me something valuable and I am indebted to you”.
That token could be symbolic … to you. I could hold on to it until a time in the future where we met again and you gave me something I want or need and I would return the symbolic token to you. Or maybe you have a friend which is indebted to you (you have a symbolic token that friend gave to you) and your friend gave me something or did something for me and in return I gave your friend the symbolic token you gave me. Now you and your friend each hold a symbolic token from each other … and this is where things can get interesting. You can exchange your tokens and cancel your debts to each other … and bring that flow to an end. Or you could hold on to those tokens, stay indebted to each other and trade those tokens with others … allowing your giving (debts) to continue flowing.
Now lets say we want to “go with the flow”. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have tokens which are symbols that we all agree one … that represent a shared sense of value? These tokens could flow farther, smoother … they would be easier to exchange … that could touch more people. Money is such a token … or it can be … if we can gently move away from the less pleasant qualities we associate with it.
To make this experience softer for me and for you I have chosen to do experiment … to transform an exchange of money into a softer token … to give us all an opportunity to reflect on our relationship to each other and our relationship with money.
This is why the workshop has a suggested price and not a fixed price. A suggested price communicates to you a reflection of my valuation. A suggested price invites you to make your own choice. This reflection will be much more relevant after the workshop … when you have a direct sense of experience. Setting your own price gives you an opportunity to reflect not just about a number, but about value, giving … and money itself. It is an opportunity to inform a relationship with me, with Yoga, with your own practice, with money, with giving.
I realize that this may be challenging for you … it is for me too. The world we currently live in feels out of alignment in many ways. The money system we live in has made money scarce and stuck instead of abundant and flowing. I am opening myself to exploring a new story and new relationships and by offering a suggested price I am inviting you to join me in that exploration.
If this workshop shimmers for you but you are thinking to yourself “I can’t afford this” … then think again … it isn’t true … it is a limitation you place on yourself. Though there is a registration fee, how much you give is ultimately up to you. At the end of the workshop you can decide how much to give. You can give the suggested price, you can give more, you can give less. If you feel it is right you can ask for a refund of your registration fee and pay nothing. I trust myself, I trust my teachers, I trust the teachings I have been given … and I trust you.